Assault charge was part of political conspiracy, says Ken Maginnis
A former Ulster Unionist MP has vowed to appeal against a conviction for assaulting a motorist in an angry road-rage altercation after claiming in court he was the victim of a political conspiracy.
Lord Maginnis, 75, was found guilty of grabbing the other driver involved in the incident in Dungannon, Co Tyrone - 21-year-old Keith Kirk from the town - and threatening to punch him.
At Dungannon Magistrates Court, the peer conceded he called Mr Kirk a "yellow bellied b******" in the exchange in June last year, but he denied things had turned violent.
However district judge John Meehan, who said Lord Maginnis had aimed an "angry and abusive tirade" at his fellow road user, said he was satisfied the prosecution had proved the non-injury assault charge against the peer beyond reasonable doubt.
He fined the peer, from Park Lane in Dungannon, £200 and ordered him to pay a further £200 compensation to Mr Kirk.
In a colourful appearance in the witness box, Lord Maginnis, a former major in the Ulster Defence Regiment, had suggested that political factors were behind the prosecution.
He claimed a speech he had delivered in the House of Lords earlier this year, in which he referred to the incident as a non-offence, and his threat to take court proceedings against Stormont's Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry had both influenced the move to prosecute him nine months after the matter was first reported to police.
He told the judge: "I was foolish or frank enough in parliament on 19th March, 2013 to refer to this event as a non-offence that had been resolved."
The peer added: "At the time when the summons was issued I had threatened to seek a judicial review against a minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly (Mr Farry) whose party leader (David Ford) happens to be the minister for justice.
"That all this is coming together after nine months of silence suggests to me that somebody had simply said: 'Right, we'll spike Maginnis's guns."
But prosecution lawyer John O'Neill rejected the claim.
"Perhaps you were simply brought to court because you had committed a crime?" he said.
Lord Maginnis left the Ulster Unionist Party last year after a public falling out with its leader Mike Nesbitt over controversial remarks the peer made about gay marriage.
The motoring incident involving the former Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP happened in Dungannon town centre.
Appearing in the witness box, Mr Kirk said he was driving along Perry Street, taking his younger sister to the bank, when a red Honda CRV pulled out of the approaching Park Road junction, forcing him to break sharply.
He said he honked his horn at the driver - an act which saw the car in front stop promptly.
At this point, he told the court, Lord Maginnis got out and walked back to his window.
Mr Kirk told judge Meehan that he presumed the male driver, who he said he did not know or recognise, was coming to apologise, so he wound down his window.
"He grabbed my right arm with his left hand and he had his right hand in a fist, he was trying to hit me with it," he claimed.
Mr Kirk said he put his hands out to protect himself.
He added: "He said 'you're a big yellow bellied bastard'."
Lord Maginnis's defence barrister Paul Bacon challenged him that his account was untrue.
He accused him of speeding up behind Lord Maginnis's car and blaring the horn continually as the peer had stopped in the road to let a parked car out.
The lawyer insisted the exchange at the car window was not violent.
"He said to you, 'you can't intimidate or scare me with your horn' and a verbal altercation took place between you - but there certainly wasn't anything of a physical nature," he said.
Mr Kirk denied the barrister's claim.
Lord Maginnis vehemently disputed his accuser's account when it came to his turn to give evidence.
He denied pulling out of the junction without looking and said he was around 30 feet further up the road, waiting "courteously" to let a parked car pull out, when he saw Mr Kirk's silver Volkswagen Bora approaching at speed in his rear view mirror.
"He came like a hurricane up the road behind me to within inches of my car and then blew the horn," he said.
Lord Maginnis added: "First of all I shook my head at him but when he continued to blow his horn I got out of the car and went back to him and I said 'you don't bully me with your horn sonny boy', I remember very clearly saying that."
The peer, a one-time schoolmaster, said he told Mr Kirk he was lying when the driver accused him of pulling out in front of him at the junction.
"I looked at him again and said 'you don't bully me you yellow bellied bastard' and then I apologised for my language," he told the judge.
In response to the allegation he had manhandled the man, the peer said:
"I neither did nor was I capable of," he said, explaining that his health would have prohibited such acts.
He told the judge he has severe arthritis and had recent operations on both hands and on his left shoulder and required a full shoulder socket replacement on his right side.
Lord Maginnis said at the time he had not looked closely at the passenger in the car and had presumed it was another man in his early 20s.
"Would a 76 (sic)-year-old man under-take and have a row and have a punch up with what he thought were two 20-year-old fellows? You must be joking."
Lord Maginnis said he had initially got out of the car to challenge the driver about his behaviour on the road and had only got angry when he claimed the peer was in the wrong.
"He knew it was a lie, I knew it was a lie and that's what prompted my outburst," he said.
But Mr O'Neill alleged that he was leaving his car with the intention of calling Mr Kirk "a bastard to his face".
At this point Lord Maginnis turned to the judge: "I didn't write a script your worship."
The prosecutor told the peer the blowing of the horn was the "match that lit your fuse".
The veteran politician replied: "I have been about for a long time and my fuse is very hard to light."
Lord Maginnis also rejected a claim that he had once referred to Mr Kirk as a "poofter".
The lawyer insisted that the peer had used the term "yellow bellied bastard" because Mr Kirk had refused to get out of his car and face him.
The peer responded: "No (I said it) because he is a bully and bullies tend to be yellow bellied bastards - excuse my language."
Again challenged on whether he had grabbed the driver and clenched his other hand, he said.
"No to both, I was incapable of doing it - sorry to disappoint you."
At the outset the judge refused a defence application to take into account alleged bad character evidence against Mr Kirk - namely two previous motoring convictions.
He stressed that what motoring actions either driver may or may not have taken were not relevant in justifying an assault.
The judge posed a hypothetical question to demonstrate his point: "A man accused of assaulting a chef in a restaurant - is it of any relevance that it was a bad meal?"
Later delivering his verdict, the judge said it was sad that a man with such a career of public service was before him in such circumstances.
He questioned that the peer may not appreciate that the force of his personality could intimidate people.
Outside the court, Lord Maginnis said his appeal was already lodged.
"I am obviously not letting it rest here," he said.
"One might say what's a couple of hundred pounds but this is my reputation. And I am appealing it, I can assure you I am appealing it."
Belfast Telegraph Digital